Harvey, Edmund Newton

Harvey, Edmund Newton (1887-1959), who was generally recognized as the world's leading authority on bioluminescence, began his investigations in biology as a boy in Germantown, Pennsylvania, collecting ``every conceivable natural object,'' as he later recalled, including ``frogs in the family bathtub to lay eggs in the spring.''

At the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a B.S. degree in 1909, he continued his enthusiastic pursuit of science. By the time he began graduate work in zoology at Columbia University, he had already participated in expeditions to Europe to collect alpine plants and to British Columbia to study ecology, won two scientific prizes, and worked for a summer at marine biological laboratories at Tortugas, Florida, and Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where his observations of sea urchin eggs led to his first publication. He had also become increasingly interested in the relatively new field of cellular physiology and had decided to make laboratory experimentation in this field his life work. He completed his doctorate in 1911, after only two years of study, with a thesis on the permeability of cells.

That spring, on invitation of the chairman of Princeton's biology department, Edwin Grant Conklin who had been one of his teachers at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvey gave a lecture in Guyot Hall on the subject of his Ph.D. thesis. After the lecture, he was promptly offered and accepted an instructorship, thus beginning at the age of twenty-three a caree as Princeton teacher-scholar that was to last forty-five years. He became a full professor in 1919 and on Conklin's retirement in 1933 succeeded him as Henry Fairfield Osborn Professor.

His contributions to the department were many and varied. He initiated courses in general physiology and biochemistry, subjects only rarely offered in biology curricula of those years. A stimulating teacher, his lectures were noted for their clear and precise exposition, and his laboratory was always open to serious-minded students. In his research he was, in the words of an associate, Aurin M. Chase, ``an explorer and pioneer'' who ``opened up new regions for others to develop,'' and all those who came in contact with him ``absorbed some of his boundless enthusiasm and spirit.''

Harvey's greatest scientific interest -- bioluminescenc~e -- began during an expedition to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia in 1913. In later years he traveled extensively to observe luminescent organisms and to collect material for study at Princeton. He devoted four books and more than half of some 250 published papers to bioluminescence. ``No one,'' his student and colleague Frank H. Johnson said, ``ever has, and perhaps no one ever will, equal the untiring efforts . . . that Newton Harvey brought to bear on this subject. . . . Through his efforts, aided by the students he inspired, the Guyot Hall laboratory became the world's foremost center of research on bioluminescence.''

He also continued to conduct research in other fields, such as cell permeability and the biological effects of supersonic waves, and, during the Second World War, decompression sickness and wound ballistics. He collaborated with Alfred L. Loomis in devising the centrifuge microscope and in pioneer studies in electroencephalography.

Harvey was a member of a score of learned societies, including the American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Sciences. He served as president of the American Society of Zoologists, the American Society of Naturalists, and the International Society for Cell Biology, and was a founder and first editor of the Journal of Cellular and Comparative Physiology. Among the many honors accorded him were the Wetherill Medal of the Franklin Institute, the Rumford Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the grade of Officer of the Ordem Nacional do Cruziero do Sul of Brazil.

In 1916, Harvey had married Ethel Nicholson Browne, also a Columbia Ph.D., noted for her research on the sea urchin. Throughout their careers they shared laboratories at Princeton and, in the summer, at Woods Hole. When they retired in 1956, his departmental colleagues gave him and his wife gold keys (hers engraved with a sea urchin, his with figures of luminous organisms), making them, in his words, ``members of an exclusive scientific fraternity of two.'' They had two sons, Edmund Newton Harvey, Jr. '38, and Richard Bennett Harvey 43, who earned doctorates in physical chemistry and medicine, respectively. Harvey was understandably proud that every member of his family had earned a doctor's degree.


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

Go to Search A Princeton Companion